For many in the developing world, education isn’t taken for granted. Around 35 million girls are out of school, the World Bank says, almost half of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Girls who gain knowledge and self-confidence in school have demonstrated time and again that they are less likely to marry young or to contract HIV/AIDS. They earn more, have healthier children and contribute to their communities, helping others to escape the poverty trap.
In support of girls’ education, MCI joined the literacy organization LitWorld and other partners, including Connect To Learn, Asia Initiatives and the Children of Kibera Foundation, for a “Stand Up for Girls” rally to celebrate the International Day of the Girl on September 22. Organizations and individuals around the world posted pictures, videos and statements on Facebook and Twitter in support of girls’ right to read, write and learn. In addition to this virtual rally, live celebrations were held in five of the Millennium Cities and in a number of American schools.
The Kumasi Education Directorate, in Ghana’s second largest city, chose to celebrate this event by launching 15 new Girls’ LitClubs in the public junior high schools, to foster literacy skills while providing safe, warm environments in which girls can spend time with peers and female role models. The festivities began with a march through the city’s market and central business district by students and teachers from 17 schools, culminating at the Kumasi Cultural Center, where Honorable Mayor Samuel Sarpong welcomed the marchers and heralded the importance of supporting girls in the city’s schools. A panel discussion followed, featuring female luminaries from two of Ghana’s leading educational institutions, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and Komfe Anokye Teaching Hospital, as well as a Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly parliamentarian and Education Directorate representative. The highlight for many was a student debate from girls’ and boys’ high schools, on the merits of investing in girls. (The boys argued strongly for increased support for girls, by the way, as clearly benefiting national development!)
- In Kisumu, Kenya, Girls’ LitClubs celebrated International Day of the Girl by gathering to express their gratitude for being in school. LitClub teachers gave personal accounts of their own school years, with one encouraging the girls “to aspire for great things in life.” The girls then completed an acrostic poem for “Stand Up for Girls,” and drew pictures of “educated girls” – many depicting the girls’ own dreams. This was followed by a Skype exchange with students at Washington, DC’s Sidwell Friends School and Arts & Technology Academy (ATA). The Kisumu girls recited an original poem by Trinette Naidoo, and ATA students performed an original choreography, danced to India Arie’s “Beautiful Flower.”
In Bamako, Mali, MCI’s social sector specialist organized a debate there on girls’ education, which was overseen by the Deputy Mayor in charge of girls’ education and five communal counselors and drew more than 40 participants. In Louga, Senegal, the mayor presided at a conference on girls’ education focused on enrollment and retention. Girls and boys in Accra, Ghana, at MCI’s School2School partner, Boundary Road Preparatory Cluster Junior High, drew beautiful pictures of how they each imagined an “educated girl” to look, pledged to create more opportunities for girls and wrote moving poems to celebrate girls’ rights. Read Boundary Road students’ work.
The Millennium Village in Gumulira, Malawi, engaged four successful women from the internal security, education and health sectors, to speak with girls at two primary schools and one secondary school. The speakers emphasized the girls’ potential, encouraging them to strive for a better future. The Primary Education Advisor, Mr. John Hau, was impressed with the program and expressed an interest in expanding it to other sites in the near future.
Several American schools also joined the rally: Second-graders from the Park School, a MCI School2School partner in Brooklandville, Maryland, stood up for girls to mark the occasion; seventh-graders from New York’s Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School discussed the issues girls face worldwide and wore “Stand Up for Girls’ badges; and students from New Canaan Country School in Connecticut, a Connect To Learn partner, wrote acrostic poems and painted a poster championing the day’s themes.
- Our “Stand Up for Girls” rally co-sponsor Asia Initiatives joined NGO Ashta no Kai in Pune, India, with a beautiful video honoring girls and how far they are willing to go, to get an education. In the massive Nairobi, Kenya, slum of Kibera, a march of 150 students and teachers celebrated the day, together with the Children of Kibera Foundation and LitWorld.
All these “Stand Up for Girls” rally celebrations helped raise awareness about the shockingly high number of illiterate girls and women throughout the developing world and, more importantly, about the need to change this by sending more girls to school. The events also helped hundreds of girls in the Millennium Cities and beyond feel powerful and capable – of learning to read and write, finishing school and dreaming big.
MCI is inspired: we promise to do our part in this important endeavor. We’ll continue to work closely with our committed partners in the Millennium Cities to enable more and more girls to gain an ever-stronger education, lifting themselves – and their communities – out of poverty.